The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act


The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is an Iowa law. It says which state's courts can make decisions about child custody. Most other states also have a version of this law. But this article is only about Iowa's version.

The UCCJEA says that an Iowa court can only make decisions about custody of a child if Iowa has jurisdiction over that child. "Jurisdiction" means the right to make decisions about something or someone. Under the UCCJEA, Iowa only has jurisdiction over a child if Iowa is the child's home state.

"Home state" has a special meaning in the UCCJEA. It means the state the child lived before a court case is filed, if that case has anything to do with the custody of a child. Under Iowa's version of the UCCJEA, Iowa is a child's home state if the child:

  • Lived in Iowa for the six consecutive months before the case is filed, or
  • Lived in Iowa for six consecutive months within six months of the date the case is filed.

"Consecutive" means "in a row." Remember, Iowa courts can only make decisions about a child's custody if Iowa is the child's home state. There are three major exceptions to the six-month rule:

  • Unjustifiable conduct. This means that the other parent has done something improper, like take the child to another state and hide the child there. An Iowa court might not consider the other state to be the child's home state, even if the child has been there six months. This is because the child's presence there is the result of the other parent's bad behavior.
  • Inconvenient forum. If one parent lives far away, they can ask the Iowa court to refuse to hear the case because it would be too difficult for the parent to appear in court in Iowa, to transport witnesses to Iowa, etc.

  • In certain situations, Iowa's UCCJEA allows Iowa courts to take "temporary emergency jurisdiction" of a child. An Iowa court can only do this if the child is in Iowa. In addition, there must be evidence that the child has been abandoned, or that the child (or the child's brothers, sisters or parents) are threatened with mistreatment or abuse.

Some kinds of cases that might have to do with the custody of a child include:

  • Divorces
  • Custody cases (where the parents are not married but still need a court order saying who has custody of a child)
  • Guardianships
  • Adoptions
  • Terminations of parental rights

The UCCJEA does not cover cases that only have to do with things like:

  • Child support
  • Medical support
  • College support

The UCCJEA doesn't just apply to parents. It also applies to anybody who is caring for a child or wants the court to let them care for a child. This includes:

  • Guardians
  • Foster parents
  • People trying to adopt a child
  • The state

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Iowa can modify a custody order from another state. But only if Iowa is the child's new home state. You may have to start in the other state. You may need to ask the court in that state to decide that the child no longer has a "significant connection" with that state. This means that most of the fresh information about the child is now if Iowa.
  • Another state's version of the UCCJEA (if they have one at all) many may be different from Iowa's. If you have questions, consult an attorney who is licensed to practice law in that state.
  • There is a federal law called the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act or PKPA. The PKPA says that every state must respect custody orders made by other states. It also says that the best place for any case involving custody is the child's home state. The PKPA defines "home state" the same way the UCCJEA does. Because it is a federal law, it applies everywhere US law must be followed. This includes Indian land, and US territories like Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: Mar 30, 2020

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